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  • women to watch

Bozoma Saint John on building buzzworthy brands

Bozoma Saint John’s essential tenants to creating cultural trends–boldness, guts, and style

Women to Watch is a Fast Company and NET-A-PORTER.COM collaboration highlighting innovative female entrepreneurs who have leveraged style and design to accelerate their success. Here Bozoma Saint John, SVP and head of marketing at Beats Music, shares how her inspiration, passion, and personal aesthetic have helped to shape her career as well as the brands she works on.

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From the agency world to fashion to PepsiCo, and now Beats Music, you have always thrived in creative roles where boldness, guts, and style can be used as tools in elevating marketing messages. How will you use these “tools” to communicate the Beats Music story?

Beats Music is a brand built on those tenants–boldness, guts, style. It feels almost kismet to be matched up in this role, for this brand, at this time. We are innovators who are fearlessly stepping into the future of music. Those who take the first steps in any field have to take those steps with panache …and I have loads of panache! We would do our founders and ourselves a disservice if we communicated the Beats brand in any other way.

How have boldness, guts, and style played into building your personal “brand”?

I was a sprinter when I ran high school and college track, and while training, I’d run long distances to build up stamina and conditioning, so I’d always have a chant going to keep up my pace and motivation. “No pain, no gain. No guts, no glory!” I may have stopped running track, but I’ve been chanting that ever since… and especially now in this career marathon! I live every day with that mantra. It’s become a physical manifestation of psychological conditioning.

What advice would you offer rising female executives on putting these tools to work in establishing themselves?

Even though society has come a long way in correcting the inequalities between men and women in the workplace, it still has to be said that women are oftentimes subconsciously playing to the gender roles which we are taught from birth. It has to be a conscious decision every day (and sometimes in every moment) to remember to be unapologetic in our boldness. We don’t have to be masculine to exhibit any traits that are deemed male. We are, after all, women, so let them hear us ROAR!

You are an expert at finding creative and innovative ways to mix pop culture and branding. What is the key to effectively “riding a cultural wave” as a marketer?

The key is knowing when the wave is over! You don’t want to be the last one in the ocean. The funny thing is that usually the first to the trend isn’t given the credit for being there first. It is those who do it best who win. So the key then is watching the wave, making sure you’re timing it so you can learn from the fall of others, but getting in early enough so that you can ride it well before it starts to crash!

How can brands take the lead in creating culturally relevant products, moments, and campaigns?

To thine own self be true. There are too many brands that want to be relevant in a culture that is not relevant to their brand. Brands should lead in the place where they are a natural leader and then build upon the cultural nuances to become even better. It’s also important to stay in their own lane. Products and services become epic cultural shapers when they prove their natural value in various cultural spaces.

Your job keeps you on the road a lot. What trends have you seen bubbling up–either in the U.S. or globally–that have yet to hit the mainstream US market?

I have a bias towards Africa, of course, so I always look to the motherland! We’ve started to see the trends in fashion, with bold, colored patterns (like Ghanaian fabric), and chunky jewelry (like the Masai of Kenya). But I see it in mobile engagement too. Especially when I go home to Ghana, mobile is MASSIVE. Their engagement numbers are larger than any other country per capita. The U.S. will catch up soon. LOL

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What is the best piece of business advice a mentor ever gave you?

“Bring your WHOLE self to work.” That statement changed my life. It was no longer about masquerading as an image that I’d seen on TV while dreaming about the future me (i.e. Amanda Woodward on Melrose Place … she was one badass advertising executive! Who wouldn’t want to be her?) Bringing MYSELF to work every day meant that I could be wholly me and be lauded for it. What a relief!


RAPID FIRE WITH BOZOMA:

Where do you find inspiration?

People! I’m an avid people-watcher. It’s so fascinating to sit at an outdoor restaurant (especially in New York) and watch people going by. I can see their style, hear fascinating bits of conversation on a variety of topics, and see where people are congregating. You can learn a lot by just watching.

Are you a rule follower or rule breaker?

I make them, I follow them, and I break them…most of the time in that order, sometimes in the same day.

Describe your personal style in five words or less.

Colorful, accessorized, curve-hugging, statement-making, snatched!

How would your coworkers describe it?

Too much!

What is your favorite Beats Music playlist right now?

Summertime Classics by Carl Chery.

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For Bozoma Saint John, recognizing, building upon, and sometimes even creating cultural trends is key to her professional success. NET-A-PORTER invited the trend-setting marketer to select some of her favorite looks for fall. Check out her statement-making pieces here.

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